Novel Girls: Poetry, slang, and likable characters

26 May

We had a Novel Girls meeting back on May 1st and it’s just being published today. That should tell you how much I’ve had to blog about! I love sharing with you all.

Katherine and I both shared a poetry piece this time. I’m not much of a poet so I was really curious how this would go. We raised a few questions about poetry critiques and how that would go. I like to write very structured poetry with rhyme schemes and certain numbers of syllables. I like to keep to conventional grammar and use periods and commas. Katherine wondered if I needed periods. Was capitalizing the next line enough to tell the reader that the phrase ended? I’m a stickler for punctuation so I want to keep them, but does it take away from the poetic flow of the poem? With commas, the reader will pause while reading, which is the same thing many will do with a line break. In a structure that’s more rigid, I can’t use line breaks where I would want my reader to pause, but does that mean I can’t use them? Are commas within a line awkward or a good guide for the flow of the poem? Nicole had said she’d like to bring some of her poetry in as well, but that her poetry is a very personal thing for her and she writes about her own emotions in a very raw sense. If something is that personal, can it still be critiqued? If something is very raw and personal, how much can you critique content? You can always suggest structure and spelling changes, but telling someone you don’t like their emotions, feelings, or reactions doesn’t feel right.

Nicole’s piece had a character that used slang words like ‘Gunna’ in his speech. As a reader, I’m very distracted by characters who speak in slang and I think it says something about their education level and intelligence. Katherine wasn’t bothered at all. I write characters who don’t use shortened words or slang and it sticks out to me when someone does. Does slang in prose bother you? What does it make you think about the character who uses it?

Sometimes the character we want the reader to like is overshadowed by another character who has a big personality. While it’s great that a character stick out because he or she is well written, you don’t want your protagonist to be overshadowed. We ran into a situation where I knew very little about the main character and more about a side character and in comparison, I didn’t really care about the protagonist. I needed something to latch on to, some level to relate to her on, in order to care about her change. In the premise of a short story, this can be really hard to do. My suggestion was to make the main character like something, be it a color or a sports team or a jacket, so that I can like her. If a character appears dispassionate about the world around them, I’m not inclined to like the character. Even if a character likes the Pittsburgh Penguins and idolizes Sydney Crosby (shudder), I can still like the character because he or she is passionate. Do you know other tricks to make a character likable?

There were a few other things we touched on that are worth sharing. Katherine had a wonderful quote which was “Titles are rudders of intentionality,” which she believed she had read somewhere. I just Googled it and couldn’t find anything, so if that is original, copyright to Katherine!

We talked about a technique that we’re calling ’emotional blocking.’ In theater, blocking is how a character gets from stage right to stage left. In literature, emotional blocking explains how a character gets from happy and smiling to angry and screaming. There are steps in between to get to the destination and it’s important that the writer gives the progression of these emotions to explain the change to the reader.

Out final quick topic was convenience. It’s convenient that I have a knife in my sock and want to stab the shop clerk’s neck. It’s convenient that I can find the receipt I need in my cluttered purse in a split second. If something is too convenient, there needs to be a reason. If too many things fall out of the sky into your characters’ waiting hands, you need to start explaining why. Go back a few pages, add something in that will make this less convenient. I went to the store with the intention of killing the clerk. I knew I would be returning the ugly socks my husband picked out so I had the receipt ready. Adding these things in can help make your story seem more real.

That’s all from the Novel Girls this time. Go check out Nicole and Katherine‘s blogs to see what they have to say.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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2 Responses to “Novel Girls: Poetry, slang, and likable characters”

  1. katk303 May 26, 2014 at 6:07 PM #

    Love the description of emotional blocking — well said.

    Like

    • Sam May 26, 2014 at 6:21 PM #

      Thanks! Having done theater, calling it ’emotional blocking’ made a ton of sense to me!

      Like

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